respond, “I’m there as a psychologist, not as a parent.” True
enough, the instructor may respond with a twinkle in her eye,
but that’s not the question at issue. The question is rather how
these two self-identities — parent and psychologist — relate to
one another. Not uncommonly, the class turns to Standard 3.05
as a way of thinking about this question. What’s interesting,
and can be playful for the class to ponder, is where one’s self-as-parent goes when the person is in the role of a psychologist.
Does it, should it, could it disappear?
Here our profession’s rather rigid history with multiple
relationships may get in the way of good ethical thinking. The
belief that all multiple relationships are unethical may lead a
student to conclude that a rigid demarcation among identities
is preferable or necessary. Of course, such demarcations are
not possible and attempting to behave as though they are is
futile, counterproductive and painfully distracting. Although
a psychologist who is a parent is not parenting during
psychotherapy, such a psychologist
nonetheless remains a parent during the
session. Standard 3.05 offers a way to think
about this intra-psychic condundrum.
The analysis posed by Standard 3.05
examines whether the psychologist
can draw flexibly upon different self-identities to help the client move toward
his or her goals. The important language
from the standard is “in performing
his or her functions as a psychologist,”
which provides a touchstone for the
psychologist in assessing the appropriate
role of different self-identities. When in a
professional role, the psychologist is firmly
planted in his or her role as a psychologist
and other self-identities fade into the
background. But they do not disappear,
and are available in the service of the client
should the psychologist deem it helpful to
draw upon them.
Applying Standard 3.05 to an intrapsychic context can be helpful in thinking
about the ethics of self-disclosure. Self-disclosure can be viewed as invoking aspects
of a particular self-identity and intentionally
making those aspects available to a client.
Standard 3.05 gives useful guidance for
when not to self-disclose, namely, when the disclosure would
impair the psychologist’s objectivity, competence or effectiveness
in performing his or her functions as a psychologist. Carefully
scrutinizing this language illustrates its relevance to intra- as
well as extra-psychic contexts. Inappropriate self-disclosures can
create significant problems for a psychologist remaining objective
and effectively doing the work of a psychologist, just as engaging
in inappropriate multiple relationships with clients can have
these very same effects.
The Ethics Code is written by and for psychologists. The
code offers deep psychological insights, with profound clinical
implications. We are at our best as ethics instructors when we
help students appreciate the many levels on which the code
can be read, and teach them how the code speaks to all the
psychologies involved in the work psychologists do. n
Dr. Stephen Behnke is director of APA’s Ethics Office.
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